Marcela Paramo

Ashoka Fellow
Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico
Fellow Since 2012


This profile was prepared when Marcela Paramo was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Marcela concluded that the only way to end the social exclusion of disabled populations was to foster empathy in children and youth by building opportunities for social interaction between the disabled and non-disabled into school curriculum. From this insight, Marcela created Friend School, a program that offers informational workshops at the preschool, elementary, and middle school levels about what disability is and in what ways it manifests itself. The in-school workshops use educational materials including videos, notebooks, and role-playing activities to give students a better understanding of what it means to have a disability. Unlike other programs of empathy that are voluntary, Marcela’s program is mandatory for all students and teachers in participating schools because the program is integrated into the school’s curriculum. In addition, Friend School promotes coexistence among children and youth of the same age, and family integration, by helping families create realistic expectations about their disabled children’s capabilities and skills. It also teaches them to balance care for their disabled child with the demands of the family.

Friend School has the potential to achieve systemic change; student participants have become more sensitive to disability issues, assimilate more naturally in interactions with the disabled, and often contribute to changing attitudes among their parents and relatives. Marcela’s activities promote coexistence and generate a sense of empathy and cooperation between these children and youth, discovering that despite living under different circumstances, they have similarities and share common interests. This program generates a change of consciousness, removing the issue of disability as a barrier to social and cultural coexistence. Marcela is focused especially on long-term generational change: she believes that by working with children and youth, as adults, they will be more likely to protect the rights of the disabled.

The program can adapt to different types of schools, and has even been requested by companies. Friend School intends to grow to as many schools as possible to become an institutional activity within the formal education system. Marcela complements her work with public policy advocacy, alliances with other civil organizations (COs) and by organizing annual forums that promote the social inclusion of the disabled to disseminate her work to a wider audience.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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